By Amelia Krauss
More than 50 years ago, a group of good friends gathered together to share their love of literature. Today, the products of those meetings remain significant enough to be studied at Union University.
This group of diverse intellectuals, known as the Inklings, along with the literary works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, will be the subject of discussion next semester in the new class “Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings,” which will be taught by Dr. Hal Poe, Charles Colson professor of faith and culture.
The Inklings were a distinct group of individuals, including Lewis and Tolkien, who met once or twice a week at Oxford University for about 30 years, Poe said. The group met primarily to discuss literature, but its members ended up producing literary classics, such as “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
“C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and their friends, are an excellent example of people in an academic setting who are taking very seriously the call to be Christian in what they are studying,” Poe said. “(They) give us a model for how to work out our Christian faith in life in the company of friends.”
The course, which will be offered Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at noon, is open to all students and will count as a Christian studies and honors elective. It will emphasize the works of Lewis and Tolkien, while looking at the inner workings of their literary society and the products that resulted from their meetings.
Students in the class will read one of the books from “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, a collection of essays by Tolkien that includes his study on the fairy tale genre, several of Lewis’s short apologetic works, Tolkien’s “Tree and Leaf” and other similar works.
Assignments will include quizzes, a midterm and a major project that will give students the opportunity to exhibit their creativity and explore their intellectual interests, Poe said.
Poe has a significant collection of Inklings memorabilia and artifacts displayed at major libraries.
In addition, he and Jim Veneman, assistant professor of communication arts and director of visual communications, recently completed a book called, “The Inklings of Oxford: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Their Friends.” The two traveled together to Oxford, where Veneman took more than 3,000 photographs, which Poe used to supplement the written text.
Poe said it is important to study works by authors, such as Lewis and Tolkien, especially for the Christian.
“One reason it’s important is because almost 50 years after the death of Lewis, his works are more popular than they’ve ever been,” he said. “And 40 years after the death of Tolkien, his stories are, for many people, their only experience of transcendence.
“It’s important that Christians understand (these works) so they can use something that is accepted by the broad culture as a door for a Christian witness. It’s a way to explore spiritual matters with people who are not yet ready to talk about the Bible.”
One of the great problems with apologetics in an increasingly postmodern era is that people are less inclined to pay attention to a philosophical argument, Poe said, but people are inclined to stories because they can affect people in ways rational arguments cannot.